Video: Reid Kimball
This site features a small interview with Reid Kimball about game accessibility and closed-captioning. Follow the image link above to view the video (with captions).
Game Spotlight: Doom3[CC]
Doom3[CC] is a modification for Doom 3 developed by Reid Kimball who works as a designer at LucasArts. Kimball started the Games[CC] group to research and develop closed-captions for games. Doom3[CC] enables people with hearing disabilities to percieve all the information communicated by game audio. This not only includes the dialogs but also the sounds of crawling zombies and footsteps behind the player. What makes Doom3[CC] special is that Kimball included a visual radar which hints the position of the sound sources. This way, deaf gamers not only know that a certain sound can be heard, but also where the sound originates from. The MOD has received critical praise, been featured on cover discs for UK's PC Gamer and was also nominated for the IGF Choice Award for Best Doom3 MOD at the Independent Game Festival 2006. Click the image-link above to visit Doom3[CC] in the Project Gallery.
Featured Article: The Sound Alternative
This site features an article which discusses ideas to adapt game audio using more than text in order to enhance the immersion of the player in the game. Follow the image link above to view the article.
Deafness is an inability to understand speech or recognize environmental sounds, scaled from mild hearing loss to profound hearing loss. An estimated 20 million people in the United States have hearing problems (including being entirely deaf or hard of hearing). This represents 8.6% of the total population.
In the early days of video gaming, auditory disabled gamers hardly encountered any accessibility problems. Games consisted primarily of text and graphics and had very limited audio capabilities. While the audio capabilities in games grew, the use of text was reduced. This introduced many of the problems auditory disabled gamers still encounter in current games. This is specifically the case with voice dialogs, which are often used for communicating essential information for fulfilling an assignment or completing a level. While most of todays games are playable by auditory disabled gamers, a growing number of them use sound to communicate essential gameplay information, giving gamers a serious and often frustrating disadvantage.
The easiest way to provide accessibility is to add so-called "closed-captions" for all auditory information. This allows deaf gamers to obtain the information and meaning of, for instance, dialog and sound effects. An important fact is that closed-captions do not only include subtitling of speech, but provide practically all the information that is provided through sound. The term "closed" in closed captioning means that not all viewers see the captions, only those who decode or activate them. This is distinguished from "open captions," where the captions are visible to all viewers. Open captions are sometimes referred to as "in-vision" in the UK. Captions that are permanently visible in a video, film, or other medium are called "burned-in" captions. An example of closed-captioning on television can be found through this link.
When closed-captions are provided in a game, not only gamers with an auditory disability will benefit from this option, but also non-handicapped gamers often highly appreciate the optional captions, to make sure no information is missed.
But there are other alternatives to text-based closed captions as well. This site features an article which discusses ideas to adapt game audio using more than text in order to enhance the immersion of the player in the game. Click this link to read the article.
The majority of mainstream computer games are "very playable" to "completely accessible" for gamers with an auditory disability, especially older video games which don't make extensive use of sound. However, as explained above, a growing number of recent games start posing a problem. Below are two examples of video games that are completely accessible for gamers with a auditory disability:
Zork: Grand Inquisator was released in October of 1997. It is considered to be the first video game to feature closed-captioning. In "normal" play, Zork: Grand Inquisitor has a black bar at the bottom of the screen. When the closed captions are turned on, they appear in this black bar where they reproduce the dialog and the sound effects. Color distinguishes the different sounds. With Zork: Grand Inquisitor developer Activision set an example which, unfortunately, took seven years to be followed (see below).
Half-Life 2, released in November of 2004, is considered to be the second game to feature closed-captioning (seven years after Zork: Grand Inquisitor). In an interview Valve Software's developer Yahn Bernier explains that it only took two weeks to implement closed captioning in Half-Life 2. Click this link to view a video showing the different closed captioning options in Half-Life 2. And click this link to view a video showing closed-captioning in action in Half-Life 2 during gameplay.
SiN Episode 1: Emergence is the first game in the SiN Episodes line by Ritual Entertainment, released in 2006. It is just the third mainstream game to feature closed-captioning (not including Doom 3[CC]). Due to a bug it's actually missing some key dialog, but for the most part it does contain captions for sounds and dialog.
Apart from the games mentioned before, good sites to start gaming are Deafgamers.com and Gamecritics.com. Deafgamers.com offers a large database with reviews of video games from a deaf gamers perspective. The extensive database offers descriptions of computer and console games and a quick overview whether the game can be played by gamers with a handicap. GameCritics.com also reviews mainstream computer games. Each review includes a special section called "Consumer Advice" in which possible accessibility issues for deaf and hard of hearing gamers are discussed.
Deafgamers.com also published a selection of Best Games of 2004. And for advice you can always meet other gamers at the forum: click this link to visit the forum.